Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August: The Return to War

Recently a friend, Keebler, convinced me to step back into World of Warcraft (WoW). I haven’t played in a very long time. I used to be pretty active back and fell off of the game when most of my friends stopped playing and went off into out of game or “real-world” concerns, more on this later. For all it’s been said, I’ve always enjoyed the idea of Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Play Games (MMORPG). It’s just been hard to find one I like, one my friends like, and one we can all afford. This has been a challenge.

First, a bit of history, I started playing WoW right just as the base game, often referred to as vanilla, was about to grow with the addition of the first expansion, The Burning Crusade. My friends and I formed an in game organization called a guild and used that to hang out, talk to one another, and form groups and play content. We used our guild to play through most of the 5 man content of Burning Crusade. We would play regular groups and run Heroic Dungeons; extra challenging versions of regular dungeons, enter in the Grand Tournament; an event tied to the lich King expansion, or uncover deep tombs; a particular run from Cataclysm.

I still remember loading in for the first time after Cataclysm and gone live, a week before the expansion officially launched, and saw the world ripped asunder by the appearance of the mighty dragon, Deathwing. Huge chasms boiled with rivers of lava where pristine velts once swarmed with gazelles and lions, a giant crater with a permanent tornado at its center swirled in the midst of a once thriving forest, cities once controlled by the forces of the Alliance were now ruled by the Horde, and long standing Horde enclaves had been destroyed by Alliance forces. In one day, without warning, from the back of a gryphon, I saw a changed world.

We then continued through the following expansions Wrath of the Lich King and into Cataclysm. At this point out of game or Real Life concerns began to beckon. People got married, moved, got bored, and just plain stopped playing. At this point I can’t honestly remember if I was one of the last or the last to leave WoW. I remember not enjoying my time in the game, as my friends weren’t there. I want to be clear, for me there was nothing wrong with the game, but I enjoy these things more when I have people to play with. I like grouping with friends and doing dungeons and instances. When everyone stopped playing, I spent a little time on my own playing content, but it’s just not the same.

I left.

I tried other MMORPG’s, some with friends, some alone, and it was never the same. I realize I may be trying to catch lightning in a second bottle after it got out of the first. The time we spent, the wonder we experienced, and even the stories we tell will probably never be replicated. I’m aware of this, still I want to try. I yearn for those days again. I know I will most likely never have them. That holy shit moment described above, of cresting a ridge on a gryphon and finding an oozing lava river at the bottom of a massive canyon that hadn’t been there the day before was made even more memorable because I yelled for my roommate to come see it. We marveled at the visual and couldn’t wait to see what else had changed. Video games at this point had been a constant setting with the occasional new zone, or added piece of content. The Burning Crusade changed the world in a way that we had never seen.

That said, I went back into WoW with some trepidation. I wanted it to be good. I wasn’t sure. At first, I started with the free content. You can play up to level twenty without paying a cent. You can’t use some of the features, such as mail, but you can still run around and do quests, get a feel for the characters, and see the world and story. I played that for a couple of weeks and then decided to brush off my old account and resubscribe. I ran around, leveled a dwarf shaman (Stormshriek) for healing. I entered dungeons in a new (to me) group finder. I had fun. I was given a level up for one of my characters that would take him to 90. I decided to use it on a night elf hunter (Nemes). I played him for a while, xperienced some of the Warlords of Draenor end game content and began reading about the Legion expansion. Everything I read about Legion seemed fun, a good story, interesting mechanics, and some things I had never seen in WoW before. After a while I bought the Legion expansion. I received a free level up to 100 for a new character. I made a gnome monk (Gearthrottle) because they hadn’t been available the last time I had played and wanted to try one. Monks are amazing.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses though. There are two basic kinds of servers in the game, player versus player (PvP) and player versus environment (PvE). In both types there are two distinct factions, Horde and Alliance, neither is good or evil, they’re made up of individuals trying to do the right thing and a handful of assholes who just suck on a basic level. I cheered when Thrall killed Garrosh screamed in joy, my only disappointment; he didn’t die in a fire while being beaten with a shovel. I guess eight simultaneous bolts of lightning will have to do. Anyway, players choose one of the two factions at character creation and it gives them access to different races, starting cities, and storylines. The difference is in PvE servers the players can only interact with the environment, while in PvP they can attack and kill each other.

I like PvP in certain situations; there are zones, battlegrounds, and events that are geared to it. They have specific rules, set ups, and sides. I like these. Jumping into PvP and running around with a set of goals with everyone roughly the same level and equipment build I fun. World PvP on the other hand is filled with dicks. This is an actual thing that happened to me three days ago. If a player is more than ten levels higher than you their level appears as a skull. It means that that character is so dangerous you cannot beat them in a fight. You will not hurt them, slow them, stop them, or control them. They will kill you, most likely in one hit. A player who was skull level to me attacked me during an event where both Horde and Alliance were working together against a third enemy. It happens, that’s the way it goes. Then they killed me again. Then they killed me again. Then they were running past the graveyard as I was respawning and killed me again. Then they stood there and waited. Because of the event, I had no control over it, every 30 seconds I would respawn. I got lucky, when I respawned the very next time, there were so many other characters the player couldn’t target me and I was able to get on my mount and fly away. I even flew to an altitude that was so high up that I couldn’t be targeted by people on the ground. You can’t attack while on a flying mount, the game won’t let you. The player chased after me on a faster mount, flew to an altitude higher than mine, canceled their mount and attacked me on the way down, killing me in one hit. World PvP fucking sucks.

The other problem I’m having is that because of my work schedule and the work schedules of everyone else in the guild we’re not always on at the same time. I am frequently the only person on in the game. While I’m having fun on the rare times when I am grouped with other people in the guild those times are infrequent. These two things aren’t deal breakers but they are down notes.

Legion launched yesterday. I’ve played through the first parts of it and I’ve even gotten the artifact weapons for three of my characters. I love the world and the story so far. I’ve even experienced a couple of holy shit moments. Sadly, I have been alone for most of them. The ones I had during the artifact quests are understandable, the quests are solo, you have to do them alone, I’m not going to be there with anyone else. Unfortunately, an entire story line where I faced the corruption of well-known characters and the death of another were experienced by myself and my YouTube stream. It would have been more fun to and possibly a more meaningful experience to be with other people.

For now though, I’m having fun. I’ll keep playing and see if it’s enough. I’m certain it will never be as good, but I hope it will be enough. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

July MMOverse

For the month of July I decided to get real ambitious. I decided to design and run my own role-play game (RPG). I had set out not to just design a setting, but to design my own mechanics as well. This project started simply, as these things often do.
I wanted to decide what sort of setting I wanted to design. I wanted to go with something simple, easy to understand, had room for good storytelling, and could be easily adapted to pen and paper RPG’s. I played with a lot of different settings: horror, mindscape, dreams, romance, humor, and the afterlife. I settled on fantasy.
My vision of a game setting was a MMO that had been crashing, the players would be non-player characters that would be attempting to save the world from external forces. Using an MMO model, would give me a built in mechanics system, a fairly simple progression setup, and a setting that most people would be somewhat familiar with. As a starting point, I thought this would be simple and easy to focus.
As for mechanics, I decided on a system using six sided dice. The system revolved around rolling a number of dice and choosing two of them to use as your roll. The dice being chosen would be picked by the player, but a few effects would allow the game master to choose one or more dice instead.
Characters were simple. All stats started at 2 and were then modified by what fantasy race you chose. Classes gave you access to skills, weapons, attacks, and special abilities. Weapons were designed with several stats including speed at which you attacked, damage, critical hot modifiers, and more impressive magic items would have bonuses and special effects. Then it went off the rails.
I designed an initiative system not only worked on how fast your weapon or skill was but how quickly you would be able to use it. I basically instituted the cooldown system from MMO’s. At the point where I was designing a special sheet for each player to track all of their initiative’s and when their skills would be ready again, I realized I had gone a bit too far.
I took a step back and walked away for a week. I find this helpful on any project where I think I might have made a mistake. When I came back to my notes I started to examine everything. That’s when I saw the cracks. The initiative system was an overcomplicated mess. The critical hit system required unintuitive math. The action system wasn’t useful. The skills were over powered. The setting had built in plot walls preventing the players from the freedom to really be their characters. In short I hadn’t designed a Role-Play game as much as a Roll-Play game.
I haven’t completely scrapped it.
I stepped back and went through it to find the bits I liked, the lessons I could learn, and the things I wanted to do with my next attempt. What were they? I liked rolling multiple six sided dice and only choosing two and who gets to pick being based on different things going on in the game. I liked the simplicity of the character builds in the beginning, before I piled two tons of crap on top of it.
I learned that I want a freer story telling experience. The idea of creating MMO characters and going forward with them was decent but blocked the characters from having backgrounds and goals. It took away past and future from the characters and left only the now. I find that tedious and dull. I want them to have goals, something to strive for, and the freedom to attempt it.
What else do I want? I want the players to explore the setting and find out what’s there. I want to let my players expand the world to their liking. I want fun characters and places for the characters to interact with.
Also, I’m scrapping the idea of fantasy. There are thousands of games out there with fantasy themes, I want my own setting and story. I don’t want people to finish and say, why didn’t we just play game X. I want my setting to be something they can’t get anywhere else. Right now I’m looking at an afterlife or slasher movie themed game. Hell, I may even do a game about Teddy bears who protect children from nightmares…or have I seen that somewhere before?

Will I try again? Yes. This isn’t a project I’m just stopping, but it will take time. More than I originally thought. As for August, what will I do? I had hoped to go to Gencon and help one of the booths, however, that seems to have fallen through. It is now too late to purchase tickets, get a hotel room, and all of the other things necessary to attend Gencon. So I’m not going to. Instead for August, I think I shall try and play an RPG over skype using Now what game to play?